It’s 3.30am, Sunday the 21st of October.
The sunroom I’m sleeping in becomes illuminated by the alarm blaring from my cellphone. I didn’t really need the alarm, I didn’t sleep anyway.
My husband will be getting up in an hour for work… it’s strange not being woken by the same alarm together. I’m thinking of my daughter who is still in bed. I can almost see those deep blue eyes she was given from her daddy, closed with a deep sleep, tucked up in her new red puppy pyjamas. I bet shes dreaming about singing or dresses or washing her hands or the colour purple. Those things are what preoccupy her every day.
I’m two hours from home at Aunty Lyndas beach house in Manly, which is located on the Whangaparoa Peninsula. Seashores, craft stores and Italian restaurants are in abundance.
I’m homesick but I’m gonna do this. I know all it takes is to follow my footsteps. I get up in a dewy foggy morning and make the hour trip to the airport.
About 6.20am and I’m on the otherside of customs. I thought I’d be able to stomach breakfast but water is the extent of it. I sit down at the nearest table and burst in to tears. I’m doing this, I really am. I’m doing it alone. Do I want to get murdered? – “God is telling you to step out of the boat” – I’m reading this over and over from my journal.
Even though it’s not the last time I cry, it’s here I decide I need to enjoy every moment.
As hard as it is being on my own, I need to shut that emotional tap off or it’s going to sabotage everything.
3.5 hours later I’m in Sydney. An hour after that, I’m boarding the biggie. The one that takes me to the U. S and A. Seat 64K – right on the window side of a wing.
An elderly couple in their 70’s sit next to me. Americans. He’s in the middle and his knees are touching the seat infront. Poor guy. He would’ve had movie star looks back in his hey day.
He sits hunching forward to see the screen infront and watches Men in Black 3 on the inflight entertainment. Every now and then giggles and holds his lady-loves hand. I can’t help but wonder about their lives. How old were they when they married? How many children do they have?
I imagined their names were Howard and Ann. That it was the 50’s when they met at a local dance made up of shiny shoes, Brylcreem, ribbons and little white gloves. That they were married before Anns twenty first year and managed to buy the house of their dreams with Howards paycheck. He was a mechanic in the army after all. There were hand written love notes, picnics by the lake, vacations to Chippewa Falls in Wisconsin. Now here they were, in their 70’s, a lifetime of laughs, loves and lessons littering their wake…flying home from the trip of their dreams down under. More memories to their love story.
13.5 hours on a Qantas plane in Cattle class, and then another 5 hours on a Qantas plane in Cattle class – It’s kind of like child birth. In the moment, its the worst experience your body could ever go through. The cramps, the claustrophobia, someone constantly kneeing you, the gas… but this time not gas that comes in a bottle, its coming from the trouser cough of the woman in front of you.
You get out on the other side of it all, and see the sunshine and you forget exactly what it was all like. Only moments earlier you’d sworn to yourself that you would never put yourself through this pain again – but then you find yourself thinking, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad…I got a beautiful baby out of it… infact, I think I WILL do this again.”
This time I wasn’t getting an 8lb 11oz bouncing baby with dimples. Instead, I was taking my first few steps on to American soil, and from a billboard – I was being welcomed by big beautiful Barack Obama and his ears.
I’d just completed 26 hours in transit and I’d done it.
It was 10.30pm and I was in New York City!
The lights… the lights of New York City at night… it was magical. Approaching the city and over the Brooklyn Bridge, I get my first glimpse of an illuminated icon, the Empire State building! I’m here! I’m really here!
My hotel is on Broadway, THE Broadway from the movies. I know that my accommodation isn’t anything to be excited about, but its somewhere to sleep in a safe area at least. It’s on a sleepy street in the Upper West side of Manhattan that is lined with sweet gum trees slowly losing their yellowed leaves with the New York “Fall”. There is a Deli at one end, a Laundromat in the middle and a Diner with three dollar omelettes at my end. The actor Chevy Chase has an apartment here and four streets down, Matt Damon has a townhouse.
I’m on the 10th floor in room 2010.
When I opened the door for the first time, I’m smacked in the face by the smell of stale cigarettes. It’s a smokers room and the windows are taped shut.
The decor is from the 80’s, the carpet is sticky, but the room is spotless. The tv is a giant box from the 90’s, the remote glows in the dark, the cabinet has a broken door, but the bed is amazing. I climb in and cry for the last time. I’m far from home, I’m exhausted and now I have to sleep with my mouth open. I pray… and then I know tomorrow will be a better day.
The next day and the days to come were like a dream. I walked. I took everything in. One moment I can smell hotdogs from sidewalk vendors, then the smell of laundry detergent from a Laundromat, and then pee… it was always like that… if it wasn’t hotdogs or laundry detergent… it was pee.
I did so many different things (< click this link!)
Did I ever tell you about Canal Street?
Canal Street is a place that is notorious for replica designer bags, belts and sunglasses. Extremely popular with tourists and residents alike.
My guidebook tells me its legal to buy them, but it’s illegal for someone to sell them. Go figure.
I have a good nosey around the place – there are bags, framed photos of New York, scarves, sunglasses, cellphone cases, belts, mini Statue of Liberties, snow globes, a guy standing with a sign that reads “Need money for weed”, you-name-it everywhere.
It’s about 2.30pm and I think its time I head off to explore other places.
I read that you may walk past someone and they will whisper under their breath “Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Coach”, all the while keeping their eyes to the streets, looking out for the police. These guys sell the better quality fakes. I also read to not be surprised if you are led to a room where they lock the door behind you. All of their ‘goods’ are in makeshift locations ready to move in an instant incase they catch wind of a raid.
I begin walking toward a good looking black guy standing with his wife next to a bus stop. Just as I get within earshot I hear the keywords “Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Coach”. I laugh and just go with it, “Okay”.
He tells me to go with his wife, her name is Lisa and she walks me over to the window of a shoe store. She flips open her cellphone and shows me a gallery of the replica bags in their possession. I point to a quilted ‘Chanel’ with a gold chain, and with that, she closes her phone and tells me to wait for her at Starbucks in the next street.
I wait for ten minutes before she walks in with a black rubbish bag tucked under her arm. She takes out the ‘Chanel’ and with a naked flame from a lighter, she lets it lick against the surface of the bag to show me the materials are good quality.
I say okay, hand her a Benjamin and we go our seperate ways – I’m walking away feeling like I just participated in a drug deal.
On the Friday, I decide to just walk and see where I end up. By now I’ve got the staring through people thing down pat. You have to. EVERY single street you have people standing by trying to engage you in conversation to give money for something, to do a cruise, a tour, a halloween special, presidential propaganda, comedy show tickets, happy hour specials, takeaway deals, we buy gold pamphlets, give money to this charity, that charity, greenpeace – EVERYTHING.
I got fed up and picked up some tips from the every day New Yorkers I observed: put ear phones in and keep your eyes forward, don’t stand around too long, don’t carry a camera bag, DO NOT wear a “I heart NY” shirt – you might as well have a lit sign with “VULNERABLE TOURIST” flashing above your head.
Horns in cars aren’t a warning, they are to let everyone know you need to change lanes. When someone bumps in to you, you need to immediately check for your wallet. “Do not walk” signs are a suggestion. Eye contact is a sign of aggression. If you think you might want to sit down somewhere to rest your feet, you’d better plan that little break in before hand because there are no benches found street to street, that what the parks are for.
As much of a culture shock as this place is, I don’t want to leave. I imagine what it would be like living in a one bedroom apartment paying $600 a week like they all do. Little do I know, that within the next few moments, I’ll be heading down a track to cut my trip early and to fly home the next day.
I’ve just finished shopping for cosmetics at a drugstore in midtown. I exit the front door, turn right to continue on down town with the other masses when I spot a familiar face. The Kiwi woman who sat behind me on the Plane from Sydney and again in LA! We briefly talked in L.A, about our plans, where we were from and then wished eachother the best in our endeavours. Then in a city of over 8 million people, we run in to eachother again!
We’re chatting like we’re old friends, what we’ve thought of the city so far, the food, the bargains we purchased etc., then she says something that changes my thought track entirely, “I’m really freaked out about the hurricane rolling in”. At this point I hadn’t even turned the TV on. I was still jet lagged and by night time, I was well and truely ready for bed. “What hurricane?” I ask. She gives me a bewildered stare, “Have you not even turned a TV on?”.
She was talking about Hurricane Sandy. I was supposed to fly home the day it hits.
I get back to my hotel at around 6pm, this time I turn the TV on. Every single channel programmed to that TV was dedicated to tracking the hurricane. It was pretty eerie. They showed footage of home owners in Jersey sandbagging and boarding everything. They closed all the parks. The Mayor was declaring a state of emergency, they were calling this thing “A storm of a lifetime” and were setting up halls and emergency accommodation for people in vulnerable areas to stay. I called the airlines and according to the Qantas lady, I had booked THE VERY LAST SEAT on the VERY LAST FLIGHT out of New York. And that was it, I was going home the next day.
I slept well that night and wake up around 11am the next day and go to grab some breakfast from the Diner across the road. I begin noticing all the sandbags lining footpaths and set outside doors ready for use. I notice plywood going over grates to the subway, plywood going up over windows. I notice people leaving wholefood grocers with bags packed full of canned goods and water.
I can’t help but feel so protected and free. Of all times to go to New York and have the experience of my dreams, a thing like this happens at the very end of my trip that shows me Gods faithfulness and favour. That of 8 million plus people, I run into a woman I’ve met… and she warns me of the coming storm. I learn that regardless of the scary things that happen in the world, if God gives you a dream, He will fulfill it…. if a hurricane is coming, it won’t stop Him. I can see that we need to stop putting Him in a box labelled “God” and expecting Him to only move within the confines of that box…that He doesn’t want to be in a box…He wants room in our lives to be Himself. When we allow Him that room, He blows our mindsets apart and blesses and guides our every step in ways that we would had never believed.
I can see so clearly that faith without deeds is dead. We need action to show our faith – when we actually do put action to it, things begin to happen and we inspire others to set off chain reactions in their own lives. You have one life to live, you might live it and do it in freedom.
“Step out of the boat”.
(When I finally got home, my story has made the front page of the paper!)